Connecting Indigenous Peoples to Informed Choices with COVID-19 Vaccines

Author, Shelley Mantei

First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities across Canada are continuing their efforts in
responding to COVID-19. They are joining ancient and contemporary practices to change the
course of history by surviving and thriving during the pandemic.

As of January 25, 2022, over 86% of individuals aged 12 and older in First Nations, Inuit and
territorial communities have received a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Over 43% of youth
aged 5 to 11 have received at least one dose.

Beyond the pandemic’s effect on health, there is often a crisis within the crisis as unequal
distribution of vaccines extends the pandemic further. This is not the case in Canada, where
Indigenous Peoples are included among priority groups receiving the vaccine. This serves as a
way of addressing historical inequities making Indigenous Peoples disproportionately more
vulnerable to viruses.

First Nations, Inuit and Métis have access to vaccines through many clinics across the country.
Plus, if First Nations peoples and Inuit need to travel out of their community to get to their
vaccination or booster appointment, the applicable travel costs will be covered by non-insured
health benefits.

While access to the vaccine is not a barrier, many Indigenous people are still experiencing
vaccine hesitancy most commonly due to confusion with conflicting information. The Circle of
Eagles Lodge Society has created culturally-relevant resources to fully enable individuals to
make informed decisions regarding COVID-19 vaccines.

“We are not here to judge anyone’s choices. We’re here to work with our Indigenous community
to help everyone make informed choices that are right for them,” said Merv Thomas, CEO of
Circle of Eagles Lodge Society.

Circle of Eagles Lodge Society (COELS) operates Indigenous halfway homes in Vancouver, BC
on the Coast Salish territory to assist Indigenous Brothers and Sisters leaving Canadian federal
institutions and those dislocated from society. For over 50 years, COELS has provided supports
to reintegrate them into communities by providing men’s and women’s residences, pre-
employment programming, cultural healing, and life skills.

Their COVID-19 decision-making resources range from education on variants, vaccine
comparison charts, a review of side effects and likelihood, to tips on how to audit trusted
sources to avoid misinformation.

“People can make informed choices about their health and well-being by asking questions,
participating in fireside chats and expressing their feelings about COVID-19 vaccinations, and
leveraging science-driven experts.”

Thomas cautions, “Listen to scientists not social media. Do your own research with trusted
sources and make informed choices that blend education along with lifeways, customs, and
spirituality driven by the ancestral force.”

Some of the best ways to identify trusted sources are to go beyond the headlines, identify the
author, check the date, examine the supporting evidence, check your biases and turn to fact-
checkers.Health experts say Indigenous communities in Canada can be at greater risk than other groups
during a pandemic. Canada wide, Indigenous communities are taking actions such as using
masks, physically distancing, and vaccination to protect their community, Elders and family.
Circle of Eagles Lodge Society resources are available at